IPiB Thesis Defense Oct. 5: Nathaniel Kuch

Nathaniel KuchIf you’ve heard of bioethanol or biodiesel, you’ve heard about a biofuel.

Adopting biofuels, which are fuels produced directly from plants or biowastes, can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And as IPiB graduate student Nathaniel Kuch explains, converting plants into biofuels begins with understanding how to break plants down into sugars.

Kuch’s Ph.D. research in the Fox Lab focuses on identifying and screening enzymes that help microbes convert a wide range of polysaccharides into ethanol.

“My work is focused on a crucial step of the biofuels process: converting plant matter into sugars that can be fermented by microbes into any biofuel of choice. I try to understand how chemical treatments and enzymes function to break down and interact with plant matter,” Kuch says. “We accomplish this through mutations of our model enzyme, as well as detailed spectroscopy of plant matter throughout the processes of chemical treatment and enzyme breakdown.”

Kuch has identified potentially important amino acid movement around a well-known but understudied calcium ion. He also showed that a specific part of the plant cell is untouched by both a model enzyme and a commercial mix of enzymes. Kuch’s results to date can be found in ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering and Current Opinion in Biotechnology.

“Besides the science being really interesting, I think that climate change is one of the most pressing issues of our time, and I like that my work is helping to address it,” Kuch, who is also a Biotechnology Training Program (BTP) trainee, says.

After defending his Ph.D. research, Kuch will be joining the USDA’s Forest Products Lab in Madison, WI to continue performing research on how to leverage renewable plant matter to generate fuels and other products.

To learn more about Kuch’s research, attend his Ph.D. defense on Wednesday, October 5 at 12:00 p.m. CT in Room 1211 of the DeLuca Biochemical Sciences Building.

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